Wednesday, 6 December 2017

The News Is You're Not Funny Anymore



OK, bit of a sacred cow this one, but let's talk about Have I Got News For You and why it simply isn't funny any more.

Let me be honest, I grew up with Have I Got News For You. First broadcast in the autumn of 1990, when I was just eleven years old, the series was perhaps the first or among the first to show me that you could be funny about serious issues. Have I Got News For You, or HIGNFY as it is abbreviated, moved from BBC2 to BBC1 in 2000 and lost its original presenter in 2002, when Angus Deayton was forced to leave when his private life of drugs and paying for sex became the news. This was the second time the line up had changed in the show's history (Merton having previously briefly left the show for a series in 1996 because he was tired of the format and believed himself to be 'stuck in a rut') and for the last fifteen years the show has been helmed by a different guest host each week. There have been 54 series of the show so far.

And doesn't it feel like it?

I haven't watched the show now for a couple of series. I got tired of watching Hislop gurn and moan at the near-the-knuckle gags the guest host had to read off the autocue (especially if they're ever to do with the Royal family - he's a blatant royalist) as if they were nothing to do with him and were deserving of his withering contempt, or the blatant disinterest Merton has for the show and some of the hosts it employs each week (he's particularly disgruntled and aloof whenever Frankie Boyle appears). I think the last resort was actually when Merton subjected German comedian Henning Wehn to a series of 'jokes' relating to WWII and Hitler. Um, it's a topical comedy news quiz Paul. The stuff you're making gags about was last topical sixty years ago, and it's actually kind of racist to continue to do it now. Likewise, the trailer for the last series which featured Hislop and Merton heavily dubbed in English speaking 'comedy' Russian, demanding 'vodka' and praising Putin. It's like the 1970s all over again.

I can't really blame Merton for his obvious disinterest (well actually I can, he's getting paid to sit there!) because HIGNFY has become deeply tired. I'd have more respect for him if he actually returned to the principles he held 21 years ago and took a break from the show, rather than sit there week in, week out looking so utterly bored and believing that wearing a cravat is hilarious and a worthwhile contribution to the programme. Paul, it's not.



When it started, HIGNFY was fresh and populated by daring young satirists and comedians who were happy to take potshots at the establishment and the status quo. But Ian Hislop is 57 now and Merton is 60: they are the establishment now, and the cosy, out of touch boys club they have cultivated down the years was never more obvious than in this latest series when guest host Jo Brand had to slap the all male panel down and point out that, actually, sexual harrassment allegations aren't funny and they must be taken seriously. It made the show watchable...for all the wrong reasons.




And that's another issue that really bugs me: since the BBC edict that all panel shows must contain at least one woman per episode, HIGNFY has consistently ensured it does the very least to get by. If a woman is hosting, then it's usually the case that the other two guests sitting beside Hislop and Merton will be male. Granted, it's not always the case, but 9 times out of 10 it most definitely is, and that stinks. Like a lot of the BBC's output in terms of news and comedy, HIGNFY is now totally behind the times. Created in the '90s, HIGNFY was definitely of its time. It's born into Blairism; the disgust of Thatcherism and the optimism of something better, but just like Blairism, it has had its day. It's no longer relevant, its woefully middle class and it holds a sneering contempt for anything else. In the '90s it spoke to teenagers and young people, but I doubt it does now. Most young people can see through the bias and snobbery it holds for new ideas and developments as it toes the BBC party line of how they're the only news outlet you can trust, that 'Corbyn is deluded', 'Russia is corrupt and bad', and 'Scottish independence is a silly idea'. And yes we all know Trump's an idiot, but we need something more satirical surely than people just parroting that?

It's the same with Private Eye, Hislop's 'day job'. In 1986, Hislop acceded Richard Ingrams to the role of editor when it was felt the the magazine needed new blood. At that time, Ingrams had been the magazine's only editor since its inception in 1961. Hislop's tenure has overtaken Ingrams' by six years now. There are many really good politically astute and intelligent comedians out there just now (Sara Pascoe and Josie Long immediately spring to mind) but they're not getting the opportunity to make a name for themselves with their own show because the old guard refuses to make way. We live in a confusing age of political turbulence and unrest in which the UK entertainment industry seems desperate to create its defining satirical comment to rival anything that Stephen Colbert and John Oliver are doing stateside. The 10 O'Clock Show, The Nightly Show, The Fake News Show and The MASH Report have all tried to do this, with some mixed to terrible results, but it's only the stale HIGNFY that continues to survive. And what is it's legacy? HIGNFY is the show that has helped cultivate the commercial appeal of odious Tory MP's like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, happily giving them the limelight because the image they chose to present audiences appears 'funny' rather than dangerous, which in reality is what they truly are. 

It's time this programme was put out to pasture. It won't be of course, because the BBC are content to flog a dead horse when they know that its longevity means it will always have an audience rather than attempt to produce something new.

7 comments:

  1. It's been dying on it's arse for a couple of years now.
    Feels like the lawyers are advising them against saying anything even slightly controversial. The whole point of satire is to have a dig at the great, good and powerful, and burst the pomposity surrounding them.
    Doesn't feel that way anymore, and is no longer "must see" (and re-quote) TV

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    1. Absolutely. It must be a good two years now since I regularly watched. I have dipped in sometimes if someone I like is on, like Victoria Coren-Mitchell etc, but more often than not I'm just catching bits here and there when channel hopping, and it's really lame stuff. I think the last ep I watched all the way through saw Merton get waves of laughter and a round of applause for saying 'Donald Trump is a fucking dickhead'. Obviously these people who find that level of 'satire' hilarious don't drink in the same pubs I do or they'd have heard things about that cretin far worse, and far funnier

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    2. Actually I think I started to wake up and smell the coffee around 2012 when Hislop rounded on Greg Davies for making a joke about nutty Royalists lining the Thames for the total washout of a flotilla. Turns out Hislop and his family were there and 'had a lovely time' Says it all really. As does the fact that the real newsworthy item from that day, that jobcentres were sending the unemployed out to act as unpaid stewards, advising them to 'sleep under bridges', went without comment.

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  2. In the era of Trump and Brexit, politics is self-satirising, so it doesn't need a TV show to do the job..

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    1. I know what you mean, I stopped watching Veep because there's nothing they can do that will top Trump in the White House

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  3. I agree with everything you've written there.

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    1. Thanks Andrea. I must admit I'm pleasantly surprised by the reaction this post has got. I did think HIGNFY was a sacred cow, so it's a relief to see so many of the same mind

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